I like to start off these talks by asking the audience: “What does peace mean to you?” Peace is a concept that defies a simple definition. I am willing to guess that thousands of ideas about peace just surfaced in our heads. ……. This is the beauty of peace— peace is incredibly personal, intimate, and individual; and at the same time, it is something bigger than each of us. There is no one way to define peace, and thus so many ways to work toward it.
While Rotary as an organization has been committed to peace from its very start -- with a seat at the forming of the UN, in the creation of UNESCO, and to date, high level consultative status with UN Economic and Social Council -- peace hasn’t always been taken very seriously. Years ago, if you mentioned “peace” in conversations with international governing bodies, multilateral organizations, and politicians, you might at best be greeted with a raised eyebrow, and at worst, with laughter and eye rolling. But things are changing, and organizations like Rotary, in partnership with organizations like the Institute for Economics and Peace, are shifting the conversation on just what peace is (and isn’t), how peace is practiced, and how peace is measured . 2
Instead of simply trying to achieve an absence of violence (or “negative peace”), Rotary has been focused on building “Positive Peace”— the attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. Rotary does this through its very membership, uniting individuals like yourselves in a common cause, and through its six (and soon to be seven) Areas of Focus
The Rotary Foundation and Rotarians worldwide foster Positive Peace by supporting thousands of projects and programs, aligning with the UN’s Sustainable Development goals— addressing some of humanity’s most pressing issues. Considered through a Positive Peace lens, all six Areas of Focus are interconnected — they address social, economic, and political factors and relations — and consider the interrelated facets of human development.
Turning our attention to the Peace and Conflict Prevention and Resolution Area of Focus is the vanguard of Rotary’s peace work – the Rotary Peace Fellowship program . This is Rotary’s “peace force” of more than 1200 leaders working in more than 100 countries in nongovernmental organizations large and small, foundations, government, and law enforcement. Peace Fellows like:
Abdikheir Ahmed, a Canadian of Somali origin, who now contributes to making Canada a more welcoming place, advocating for policies
that empower refugees and immigrants to achieve their full potential in their new home.
Amanda Martin, director of an innovative Community Transformation Center with Etta Projects, a public health organization addressing
water, sanitation, and disease prevention in rural Bolivia working hand in hand with community health promoters and leaders.
And Carlos Juarez, who witnessed increasing violence in his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico, organized neighbors to advocate for political action,
and now directs the Institute for Economics and Peace in Mexico.
I am proud to be counted among the ranks of these Peace Fellows, each of us with our own area of focus — together, cultivating the conditions for peaceful societies to flourish. As for my story… I grew up overseas, the daughter of civilians working for the US military— very aware of difference, privilege, and power from a young age. This awareness stayed with me as a university student — and I wanted to do something. I volunteered to lead an International Service Team to Guatemala and the Rotary Foundation — an organization I had never heard of before — made the trip possible with a Volunteer Service Grant.
During my time in Guatemala, I was deeply impacted by a women’s textile cooperative, Ixoq aj Kemool — 28 weavers who depended on their earnings to send their kids to school. At their request, a friend and I started a project in the US to sell the weavers’ handicrafts at a fair wage. That small project launched my career in international development: inspiring me to advocate for social justice for small-scale producers and community-driven development in the Global South. The Guatemala Service Team led to work with Equal Exchange, a fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate company; and later, in academia, with gender studies, nonviolence studies and leadership studies at Kansas State University
and ultimately with the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh — an institution dedicated to cultivating women leaders. These early career jobs allowed me to experience economic and community development at various levels
— from the field, to the boardroom, to the classroom. But I reached a point where I knew I needed specific skills, knowledge, and connections to go further — to have a deeper impact on a global level. And the Rotary Peace Fellowship at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia provided that opportunity.
My Master’s in International Studies: Peace and Conflict Resolution, equipped me with the tools necessary to critically analyze and re-think development approaches — to be a more effective practitioner. And upon finishing the Fellowship, I was more hungry than ever to be back in the field, preventing conflict and building peace via community-driven development.
I joined Coffee Kids, a US-based nonprofit dedicated to improving livelihoods for coffee farming communities in Latin America through health, education, food security, microfinance, and capacity building projects. In my job as International Program Coordinator, I worked one- on-one with grassroots partner organizations to help them implement and measure the impact of projects they themselves designed and carried out. Coffee Kids’ partners and project participants taught me a lot that I hadn’t learned in the classroom. About entrepreneurship; about relationship building and trust; about building capacities and resiliency in individuals and organizations in the face of challenges. About just what sustainability really means – and you have to ask the community you are working with that question to get a real answer. This work at Coffee Kids inspired me, along with my former boss
to launch True Roots International, a consulting organization providing project management services for US and Canadian donor organizations carrying out development projects in Latin America. We started True Roots based on 15+ years working with grassroots organizations in different parts of the world. Like Rotarians who do these sorts of projects globally - we understood that many of these organizations know what they need to improve conditions in their communities, but often lack the resources and connections to do so. 18
And my work as a consultant providing monitoring and evaluation services to a Mexico Positive Peace Workshop, supported by Rotary and IEP in 2017… This 2017 PPW in Mexico was made possible by a Rotary Global Grant, and brought together more than 300 Rotaractors, university students, and youth leaders to learn about principles of positive peace and social change. My work at the time involved measuring the impact of this Workshop - which undeniably demonstrated that participants applied their new knowledge and skills gained at the training to local peacebuilding projects and collaboration networks. Specifically in the multiplier effect, with the information and skills gained in this project impacting over 16,000 other individuals around Mexico. This led me to my current work with the Rotary Foundation, as the Coordinator for the Partnership between Rotary and the Institute for Economics and Peace. Combining Rotary’s grassroots global network with IEP’s data measuring peace and their Positive Peace framework – creating tools and materials for 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, making peace more tangible and actionable. At the cornerstone of this partnership is a focus on building knowledge, skills, and networks in Positive Peace in not just Mexico, but expanding this globally. 19
Key partnership activities include Positive Peace Workshops for youth in both Mexico and Colombia in 2019 20
Bringing together Rotarians, professional peacebuilding organizations, other volunteer organizations, and Rotary Peace Fellows. 21
As a result of these workshops, the young people are organizing themselves regionally and carrying out actions or creating projects based on the Pillars of Positive Peace. 22
And at present - in order to help make Positive Peace more tangible for Rotarians, the Rotary-IEP Partnership created the Positive Peace Activator Program. Between 2020 and 2022, 150 new Positive Peace Activators will be trained in six regions around the world. Who are the Positive Peace Activators? Rotarians, Rotary Peace Fellows, Rotaractors, and other Rotary stakeholders: Selected through a competitive process and who demonstrate a clear commitment to peacebuilding; some are Rotarian volunteers and others are full-time peacebuilding professionals. Attend an intensive 20-hour training on the Positive Peace methodology and framework. Make a two-year commitment to provide training, education, and support to Rotarians. We’ve completed our first training of Activators for the USA and Canada in January 2020 and will be training our Latin American Cohort in October of 2020.
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